Calls for a new March arts centre to help promote art in the town

Dance Mania dress rehearsal. Picture: Steve Williams.

Dance Mania dress rehearsal. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

March needs a central arts hub that was the message given loud and clear at a meeting in the Town Hall on Monday night held to discuss a whopping £1million worth of funding for arts in this area.

But just where the centre or hub should be located was in dispute with some arguing in favour of the library, others pointing to March Community Centre in Station Road and the former Collingwoods auction rooms being a possible third location.

Dozens of groups were represented at the consultation meeting organised by arts facilitators ADeC and led by TwentyTwenty Productions to discuss the future provision of arts in the town and how to get more people involved.

The £1million funding is being split between Fenland’s market towns: March, Wisbech, Chatteris and Whittlesey and also nearby Brandon, Mildenhall and Newmarket which equates to around £150,000 per town.

Monday’s gathering was the third to be held and included a presentation on the intentions of the Market Place project which is part of the Arts Council’s Creative People and Places scheme.

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However, those present were concerned to learn the money can not be used on capital projects such as creating an arts centre, but will instead go mainly on workshops, ‘go and see visits’ to things like theatre productions and training for groups. Although, it could provide a ‘creative hub’ and it is this point which could be developed to see March have its own arts centre - if that is what is decided by a newly established arts forum, which will be set up following Monday’s meeting.

All representatives complained it was hard to attract audiences and agreed a central point for arts could help improve the situation.

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Sid Dickinson, father of Lisa Dickinson, who runs the successful Dance Mania based at March Community Centre, explained the need for better facilities for performance groups.

He said Lisa spends around £5,000 a year on hiring equipment to put on her hugely popular dance shows, which play to sell-out audiences every time they are produced.

Francis Pepper, chairman of March Operatics agreed March needs a central hub and argued the community centre was ideally located. He said the town did not need a virtual ‘creative hub’ but rather a real bricks and mortar hub within the town.

Janet Darwood, who is associated with a number of arts groups, also agreed the need for an arts hub and pointed out the community centre is already ‘half-way’ there, with a stage and hall.

Local MP Steve Barclay, who has been pushing for better arts funding for the area is due to meet with representatives of the Arts Council next Friday.

Speaking after the meeting he said: “It’s clear from the feedback I have received that there’s a strong desire to pool arts funding into one central location at March Community Centre, which could become the community hub for a wide range of arts and local clubs.

“I have previously raised concerns both at the limited amount of arts funding received in our area and also the fact that much of the money we do receive does not go to the frontline community groups because it is spent on workshops and staff salaries.

“I am calling on ADeC who have received this £1million to demonstrate value for money by ensuring that March Community Centre gets the investment it needs.”

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